Kampala, Uganda | URN | John Damulira’s family home bears resemblance to a rural home. Though the family house is wedged between many other substandard houses in Wakuleka, about 100 meters off Salama road in Makindye division, the nature and number of domestic animals including goats, rabbits, chicken, ducks set them apart from their neighbors.
It’s also an extended family. More than half a dozen kids (grandchildren of Damulria) were playing and watching TV when our reporter visited the home to speak to Damulira’s wife, Sarah Damulira whose husband has been missing since November 2020.
A businessman trading in car spare parts in Kisekka market, John Damulira, a 52-year-old was arrested on 21st November 2020, two days after riots triggered by the arrest of National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine on his campaign trail in Luuka district.
A search since then hasn’t yielded any answer to the questions: Where is Damulira and why was he arrested? The family has gone to prisons, army barracks, police stations and court to apply for a habeas corpus.
Sarah Damulira, a mother of eight was joined by two of her children as we sat on their house porch veranda for an interview on Martyrs day last week.
When asked to recount what they have gone through in the past six months, Sarah was a bit slow to start talking. Her son, Ndugwa Davine kicked off the narration of the arrest and the search that started at Central Police Station (CPS).
Sarah picked up the narration, talking about how she was beaten badly by soldiers at Makindye General Court Martial where they had gone to ask if Ddamulira had been brought to the army court. This was on January 8th 2021, when Bobi Wine supporters arrested in Kalangala were appearing in the Court Martial.
The family has lost hope. “When you know that a person is here or there, it restores some hope and confidence,” Ndugwa said. “For us, we don’t know. It is almost eight months since he was arrested.”
Sarah can’t withstand apprehensive thoughts like the possibility of her husband having died during torture.
At one of the police investigation units, she says she was told to forget the cluster of people arrested immediately after November 18th riots. “But he has a family and even grandchildren, we are all here asking ourselves, what could have happened. At least if you get to know someone died and you bury him, you know you have buried him.”
And for Ndugwa, it’s impossible to erase frightening tales he has heard such as “abductees are thrown in a tank of acid which burns everything including bones,” from his mind. “That when a person is thrown in acid, you can’t even get his bones,” he said.
Sobbing plea to the president
Sarah and Ndugwa say Damulira’s name was once mentioned by the President in one of the security briefing early this year. So they have a plea to President Museveni: “What I ask our president, forgive us, we have gone through a lot of pain. Since our father was arrested, we have not slept.”
“We are always up anxious at night, our hearts hanging in the air because we don’t know what is happening to him,” Ndugwa pleads. “At least produce him in court so that he can be sentenced. And if he died, give us his body, we will know that we buried him so that once in a while, we can go to tend to his tomb.”
Sarah said; “I am appealing to you, president, forgive me, at least show me my husband. I am on my knees president. I am in a situation where I cannot look after the children.” Arresting the family head, she says is like arresting the whole family.
Ndugwa says the task of searching for his father and responsibilities he has had to shoulder taught him the necessity of growing up quickly.
“It has taught me to work hard because I have to look for food for my mother, children need to go to school, my mother needs money for medicine,” he says.
But for Sarah, it has been the worst form of suffering. “Sometimes, I wish I was dead. As the family, we are like dead people. Why would I and my children continue living when we are dead?”
Police heard him. But where?
Days after Damulira’s arrest, Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesperson Patrick Onyango was quoted by the Daily Monitor saying they had him. When the family applied for Ddamulira’s production at the High Court, demanding Damulira’s immediate release, Onyango was summoned to tell the court where the suspect was being detained. But Onyango did not turn up, Ndugwa said in an interview.
Lawyers who represented government said they had failed to trace Damulira.
Onyangao says he is out office on course and can’t comment.
President Museveni in previous speeches about election-related arrests said the government would account for all missing people. But it hasn’t. Internal Affairs Minister Jeje Odonog tabled in parliament a list of suspects government had in various detention facilities and Damulira wasn’t on Odongo’s list.
And in a previous story with circumstances similar to those of Damulira’s disappearance, the army spokesperson Flavia Byekwaso said she has no comment if a person is not on a list that was tabled by Jeje Odongo in parliament. Museveni also revealed in February that his SFC guards were holding 51 suspects.
And at an Inter-Party Organization for Dialogue (IPOD) summit in March, Mr. Museveni promised unconditional release of 51 suspects arrested after November 2020 riots. IPOD Executive Secretary Frank Rusa says there has not been a formal follow up on the president’s promise.